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Julian McDaniel

MA Student


Julian McDaniel was born in Boca Raton, Florida and had visited East Tennessee every year up until his move in 2015. He has always considered Appalachia his home due to his melungeon heritage and the fact that his melungeon ancestors have called the region home for hundreds of years He received his B.A. in anthropology from the University of Tennessee in the Spring of 2019. He is currently working toward his M.A. in the department of anthropology, which he will receive in either the Spring or Summer of 2022. He has begun applying to PhD programs for Fall 2022 entry. He is a teaching assistant for Dr. De Ann Pendry and teaches Introduction to Cultural Anthropology to roughly 50 students a semester.


Previous Research Experience


From 2016-2019, Julian, an undergraduate research fellow, worked on a research project with Dr. Raja Swamy that explored neoliberal recovery in post-Harvey Houston, Texas. Specifically, this work examined how the petrochemical complex operated with impunity and the workings of power in post-disaster contexts. The unequal distribution of damage following a disaster took center focus on this research, as those without access to resources faced the blunt of the damage and received the least amount of aid. A publication inspired by this work is forthcoming. In the Summer of 2020, Julian received a grant to assist Dr. Tamar Shirinian on a project examining access to mental health care and the oftentimes contentious relationship that exists between insurance companies and providers, some of whom utilized creative strategies in order to make sure their patients received partial care. In the Summer of 2021, Julian received departmental funding to conduct pilot research in preparation for his M.A. thesis.


Ongoing Research Project (MA Thesis Research)


Julian is currently following necessary protocol and prepping to conduct research for his M.A. thesis. Roughly titled “Slow Violence and the Overdose Crisis: An Exploration of Resistance to the War on Drugs in the Mountain South.” The project begins with an analysis of the overdose crisis as it has impacted rural Appalachia, particularly in what is known as the Mountain South. A brief history of the conflict will be provided and Julian hopes to show that the war on drugs was a complete failure.


Secondly, Julian will be exploring what he refers to as “recovery capitalism,” which will be expanded upon and critiqued throughout his work. Very briefly, recovery capitalism can be thought of as the process by which vulnerable drug users are forced into for-profit treatment centers, many of which are run by the state. This focus is crucial given the current push for forced rehabilitation as opposed to prison, which often generate money for administrators at these facilities and incentivize others to open up private institutions that are highly profitable. Julian argues that harm reduction practices need to replace carceral approaches to drug use.


The final portion of the thesis incorporates all of what was mentioned previously but conceptualizes what’s going on in the mountain south as a form of slow violence. While the overdose crisis and the bodily sacrifices made by those forced to go through recovery certainly constitute a disaster, the harms inflicted onto PWUD come from a diversity of sources and happens slowly and consistently, are spread over time and space, and, perhaps most importantly, lacks “the spectacle” of a disaster. This might explain the lack of media attention and certainly contributes to the demonization of PWUDs.  Thus, Julian will be arguing that a program of harm reduction must be implemented in order to combat the overdose crisis. Harm reduction is conceptualized here as a set of initiatives designed to reduce harm for PWUDs (people who use drugs). Examples include the establishment of safe consumption sites, free access to Narcan (an opioid overdose reversal drug), access to syringe exchange programs, housing and employment assistance, etc.


Interests: drugs, harm reduction, slow violence, alternative communities of care, radical social movements, mental health, disasters, recovery


Thesis project on harm reduction (underway)